Cambodia ruling party claims 'huge victory' in vote decried as 'sham'

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Cambodia went to the polls early today in an election set to extend strongman premier Hun Sen's 33 years in power after the only credible opposition was dissolved, effectively turning the country into a one-party state.

Nineteen small - or hitherto unknown - parties are competing against Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) in the absence of the main opposition. But critics called the election a sham because of a campaign of intimidation by Hun Sen and his allies against critics and the dissolution of the main opposition party a year ago.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the party won an estimated 100 out of 125 parliamentary seats.

"The result announced by the CPP and the National Election Committee must be fully rejected by the worldwide community", Mu Sochua said. However, official results are not expected to be released until August.

The CNRP, appealing to younger voters and those seeking change, narrowly lost the last general election in 2013.

At the last general election in 2013, at which there was 9.6 million registered voters, 6.7 million people voted.

Sunday's elections "substantially erode Cambodia's achievements in promoting political reconciliation and economic growth since the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement", the statement read.

If the European Union decides to enforce the hard-line with Hun Sen's government and withdraw its preferential trade agreements with Cambodia, the textile industry will suffer, as well as the export of rice and other products that are exempt from the taxes of western markets.

Opposition members had urged voters to boycott the election.

"But some people misundertand about democracy, which means holding the election to choose someone to govern the country", he said.

"The CPP will get more than 80 percent of the popular vote", he said.

"If [the West] doesn't follow through on their threats, they would be admitting that [a liberal democracy] in Cambodia is not possible", he added.

Although 20 parties contested the election, the only one with the popularity and organization to mount a credible challenge, the Cambodian National Rescue Party, was dissolved previous year by the Supreme Court.

Hun Sen, 65, said that he intends to stay in power for at least two more five-year terms.

"This election is in reality the funeral ceremony for Cambodian democracy", Asia Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson tweeted.

Critics say the election is a backward step for democracy in Cambodia, marred by intimidation by the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the dissolution a year ago of the main opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) and the jailing of its leader, Kem Sokha, on treason charges.

Police on Saturday arrested four farmers and accused them of planting a grenade at a polling station in the country's northern Preah Vihear province, provincial police chief Ying Samnang said in police report.

Sam Rainsy, a former leader of the CNRP now living in exile, has called for a boycott of the election, the news agency said.

That led many western governments to pull their support from the vote.

It represents a major protest vote in an election where the government has claimed over 82% voter turnout while many foreign observers and even the United Nations have branded the process as "illegitimate".

The NEC's Sik Bun Hok said the high voter turnout on Sunday put to rest doubts about the election's legitimacy.

Some Cambodians are refusing to vote on Sunday, despite Hun Sen's warnings that "traitors", who choose not vote, will regret their decision.

The Cambodian government has denied that there was any wrongdoing or unfairness, pointing to the number of candidates contesting the elections as well as the worldwide observers sent to monitor.